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Mother Nature, Pirates, & Dangers at Sea

By Cindy Vallar

Among the Waves by Ivan
              Aivazovsky, 1898
Among the Waves by Ivan Aivazovsky, 1898
(Source: WikiMedia Commons)

[A]bout Four a-Clock in the Afternoon, the Wind came to the N.E. and freshned upon us, and the Sky looked very black in that quarter, and the black Clouds began to rise apace and moved towards us . . . . At Eleven a-Clock . . . it began to rain, and by Twelve a-Clock at Night it blew exceeding hard and the Rain poured down as through a Sieve. It thundered and lightned prodigiously, and the Sea seemed all of a Fire about us; for every Sea that broke sparkled like Lightning. The violent Wind raised the Sea presently to a great heighth, and it ran very short, and began to break in on our Deck. One Sea struck away the Rails of our Head, and our Sheet-Anochor . . . was violently washt off, and had liked to have struck a Hole in our Bow, as it lay beating against it. Then we were forced to put right before the Wind to stow our Anchor again; which we did with much ado; but afterwards we durst no adventure to bring our Ship to the Wind again, for fear of foundring . . . . The Fierceness of the Weather continued till Four a-Clock that Morning; in which time we did cut away two Canoas that were towing astern.
After Four a-Clock the Thunder and the Rain abated, and then we saw a Corpus Sant at our Main-top-mast Head, on the very Top of the Truck of the Spindle. This sight rejoiced our Men exceedingly . . . . (Dampier, 280) 1
William Dampier by
                    Thomas Murray, c.1697-1698 (Source: WikiMedia
                    Commons)William Dampier’s description of a storm at sea was written in July 1687. Such tempests weren’t unusual, but surviving one wasn’t guaranteed. Once a ship set sail, she was on her own and, if lost at sea, seldom did anyone know what happened to her and her crew. The Chevalier Michel de Grammont sailed into a storm in April 1686, and was never heard from again. Captain Johnson wrote that Benjamin Hornigold “. . . was cast away upon Rocks, a great Way from Land, and perished . . . .” (Defoe, 42) Most likely de Grammont’s ship sank and Hornigold encountered a hurricane, somewhere in the Caribbean or Gulf of Mexico, and drowned or his ship ran grounded and he was among those lost.

Captain Nathaniel North was in the Indian Ocean when his ship encountered foul weather.
In their Passage they met with a violent Storm, in which they were near foundering, it beat in their Stern and obliged them to throw over all their Guns (two excepted, which lay in the Hold), and forced them into the Gulf of Persia, where they took several small Vessels, which they ripped up to mend their Ship.  (Defoe, 521)
They also had a more serious problem – no drinking water. During the storm, they had “staved in all their Casks, to save themselves.” (Defoe, 521) To remedy this situation, they chased a fishing vessel, but the people on board dove into the water. The pirates eventually caught one man, after breaking his jaw, and once treated by the pirate surgeon, the man took them to a well.

As with any mode of transportation, danger lurked. This was no less true for the men and women who ventured aboard wooden ships. Mother Nature had at her disposal any number of tempests, including churning seas, sudden squalls, hurricanes, waterspouts, and unseen shoals and reefs. If those perils weren’t enough, accidental and man-made hazards threatened too:
[T]he chances of a seaman ending his life in . . . a catastrophe were high, and many a man fell from the rigging, was washed overboard, or was fatally struck by falling gear. (Rediker, Between, 92-93)
Man over board
The Wreck of the Covenant by N. C. Wyeth, 1913
(Source: Dover Clip Art)

Dr. Samuel Johnson said it best: “being in a ship is being in jail with the chance of being drowned.” In spite of the danger, men and women did go to sea and the risks they took applied to all, whether they were sailors, privateers, or pirates.

Consider the ships in which they sailed. These were made of wood, hemp, and cloth – all materials that easily burned. Add to these the flammable ingredients they carried, such as tar and gunpowder. A careless pirate smoking. A stray ember from the galley. A candle left burning. A spark igniting loose powder. And don’t forget the alcohol. A pirate aboard Thomas Cocklyn’s Windham was pumping spirits from a hogshead when a lit candle dropped through the bunghole. The rum caught fire, which soon spread to a second barrel. They exploded, but for whatever reason or just dumb luck, no other hogsheads burned and the fire didn’t reach the nearby stores of pitch and tar. No wonder that seamen feared fire. After all, if the ship burned, the only place left for them to go was the water. Many seamen didn’t know how to swim and, if they didn’t have any flotsam to hang to, they were likely to drown. If they survived the sinking, they had neither water nor food and died.

Ship on Fire at Night by Charles
                    Brooking, 1756 (Source: WikiMedia Commons)
Ship on Fire at Night by Charles Brooking, 1756
(Source: WikiMedia Commons)

Fire, perhaps only a spark of flame, proved devastating for the buccaneers who sailed with Henry Morgan. On 2 January 1669, he and his fellow captains convened aboard his flagship, which was anchored off Île à Vache, to plot out a raid on Cartagena. Afterward they dined on the quarterdeck. Pirate surgeon Richard Browne later wrote:
Henry Morgan from Piratas de la America
                          by A. O. Exquemelin, 1681 (Source: Beej's
                          Pirate Image Archive)[A]bout 12 o’clock . . . the Oxford blew up and above 200 men lost . . . . There were but six men and four boys that belonged to the Oxford saved . . . . It cannot be imagined how this sad accident happened, but suppose the negligence of the gunner in filling powder to load the guns . . . . At the time of the blowing up the ship, Captain Whiting, the purser, and myself were at dinner at the binnacle . . . . The mainmast jumped up out of the ship and fell upon the starboard quarter, where Captain Aylett, Captain Bigford, and some other Captains were walking and were all knocked on the head by the mainmast, and Captain Whiting, who was on my right hand and the purser on my left, and was out-angled in the awning and so drowned. . . . I only heard a great rushing noise, with fire and smoke, and the battlements of the awning being on fire fell upon me, and immediately I felt the deck give way and was in the water over head and dived, and presently bore up again and saved myself by getting astride upon the mizzenmast. There were not above 20 persons . . . from other ships and our own company that were saved, and most of them much hurt. All them that were upon deck or any part of the ship, were all lost, except those upon the quarter-deck. (Marley, Pirates, 1:427-428)
One of the few who survived was Morgan, and other buccaneers began to believe he couldn’t be killed. Spain, however, saw the loss of the warship and so many men as God’s way of exterminating the vermin infesting His seas.

Contrary winds or no wind at all could also have devastating results because a ship couldn’t move. This usually resulted in the rationing of food and water. In 1680 some buccaneers facing this predicament sold their rations of water for “30 pieces of Eight per Pint.” (Little, Buccaneer’s, 116) Six years later, Captain Charles Swan was forced to place his crew on short rations as well.
[W]e had about ten Spoonfuls of boil’d Maiz a Man, once a Day . . . I do believe this short Allowance did me a great deal of good, though others were weakened by it; for I found that my Strength increased, and my Dropsy wore off. Yet I drank three times every Twenty-four Hours; but many of our Men did not drink in nine or ten Days time, and some not in twelve Days; one of our Men did not drink in seventeen Days time, and said he was not adry when he did drink; yet he made water every Day more or less. (Dampier, 195)
Rationing was also put into effect if the pirates missed their intended destination, as happened when Bartholomew Roberts and his two ships, Royal Fortune and Good Fortune, sailed past the island where he planned to careen. The single hogshead of water (63 gallons) didn’t go far when portioned out among 130 men, and what food they had was salted, which made their thirst worse.
[A]n allowance of one single mouthful of water for twenty-four hours; many of them drank their urine, or sea water, which, instead of allaying, gave them an inextinguishable thirst that killed them. Others pined and wasted a little more time in fluxes and apyrexies [fevers], so that they dropped away daily. Those that sustained the misery best, were such as almost starved themselves, forbearing all sorts of food, unless a mouthful or two of bread the day, so that those who survived were as weak as it was possible for men to be and alive. (Sanders, 123)
George Shelvocke and his men endured a similar experience. They were in need of water, but could find none once they reached the Gulf of Amapala.
We had not now forty gallons of water in the ship, and no other liquids, and now came to an allowance of half a pint each every twenty-four hours, even this being too large, considering we could get none nearer than the island of Quibo, which was about 480 miles [away] . . . while we on board were forty-three in number . . . . We were thirteen days on this allowance as we steered for Quibo, with uncertain winds and weather, always wishing for rain and expecting it from many louring black clouds which seemed every minute ready to discharge their burdens, yet never did it rain to any purpose. No one who has not experienced it can conceive our perpetual extremity of thirst in such sultry heat, which would not permit us to eat an ounce of victuals in a day. We even drank our urine, which moistened our mouths indeed, but excited our thirst the more. Some even drank large draughts of seawater, which had like to have killed them. (Shelvocke, 148-149)
They did eventually find water at Quibo. After three years and sailing all the way around the world, they returned to London on 1 August 1722.

Such dire circumstances sometimes drove men to steal food or water, as happened on Swan’s 1686 cruise. His crew tried one of their comrades and declared him guilty. His punishment was to suffer “three Blows from each Man in the Ship, with a Two-Inch and a half Rope on his bare Back. Captain Swan began first, and stuck with a good Will; whose Example was followed by all of us.” (Dampier, 195)

If a pirate went overboard, most times he drowned. Ships didn’t stop easily and, by the time the crew maneuvered her to retrace her path, the man would already be lost. Also, it would have L'Olonnaisbeen difficult to locate him because he was a small dot compared to the vastness of the ocean.

Other hazards might be a leaky hull or running aground. The latter was certainly the case for Jean David Nau or, as the pirates called him, l’Olonnais (right). After an attack on Puerto Cavello (Venezuela) in 1667, his ship grounded on a sandbar at islets known as Islas de las Perlas near Cabo Gracias a Dios (between Honduras and Nicaragua). According to Alexandre Exquemelin, l’Olonnais did so because he “misjudged the depth.” The unfortunate accident had dire consequences for l’Olonnais. Unable to dislodge the ship, he and his men built a longboat from the ship’s wood and iron. This task took five or six months, but eventually they sailed to Cartagena’s coast.

On arrival in the Gulf of Darien, he and his men fell into the hands of those savages the Spaniards called Indios Bravos. According to one of his companions, who only saved himself from a like fate by running away, l’Olonnais was hacked to pieces and roasted limb by limb. (Exquemelin, 117)

Still, Mother Nature’s tempests posed the greatest danger to a pirate ship. During a storm, the guns could break loose or the ballast and plunder could shift. The change in weight had the potential of heeling her over until she sank. Heavy seas and violent winds could tear sails from their yards. Masts might break from the extra weight of wet canvas and/or the force of the wind. As spars and rigging aged, they lost their elasticity. This made them prone to cracking and shredding.

The helmsman attempted to meet oncoming waves at a 45-degree angle to lessen any damage the ship might sustain and keep the ship from capsizing. Pirates reduced the sails to lessen the strain on the masts, but in heavy gales, this wasn’t as easy as it sounds. They were thirty to ninety feet above the deck, standing on a foot rope, leaning against the spar from which the sail hung. They used every ounce of their strength to gather the canvas without leaning too far over, otherwise they might flop around like the sail or topple to the deck or into the ocean. If a pirate didn’t pull it in far enough, the wind could snatch it from his hands.

Furling SailsFurling Sails

Another danger, particularly if it happened during a storm, came when a cable got caught in a block, preventing the sail from being furled completely. The only way to fix the problem was to go aloft. Not only was a pirate high off the deck, but the ship was rolling and pitching, which caused the masts and yards to sway, and the rope was slippery. “If a block is stuck, it is normally out of reach of a foot rope, so the sailor has to crawl out on other parts of the rigging that are less secure, not designed for him to be there.”2

Working with sails during stormSailing through a storm could terrify even the meanest pirate. Yards, sheets, braces, and rigging could be ripped away as if someone had taken an axe and cut them down. Men could be tossed across the slippery deck or overboard. At night, a pirate couldn’t see the man standing next to him. Tackle was blown about and could strike him without warning. If covers weren’t placed over the windows, great waves could crash through the glass and fill the captain’s cabin. Woodes Rogers recorded one such tempest in his log on 5 January 1709.

Just past twelve Yesterday it came on to blow strong: We got down our Fore-Yard, and reef’d out Fore-Sail and Main-Sail; but there came on a violent Gale of Wind, and a great Sea. A little before six we saw the Dutchess lowering her Main-Yard: the Tack flew up, and the Lift unreev’d, so that the Sail to Leeward was in the water and all a-back, their Ship took in a great deal of Water to Leeward . . . to my surprize they kept scudding to the Southward. I dreaded running amongst Ice, because it was excessive cold; so I fir’d a Gun as a Signal for them to bring to . . . . They kept on, and our Men on the look-out told me they had an Ensign in their Maintop-Mast Shrouds as a Signal of Distress . . . so I wore again . . . . Just before night I was up with them again, and . . . . About three this morning it grew more moderate; we soon after made a Signal to speak with them, and at five they brought to: when I came within haile, I enquir’d how they all did aboard; they answer’d, they had ship’d a great deal of Water in lying by, and . . . the Sea had broke in the Cabin-Windows, and over their Stern, filling their Steerage and Waste, and had like to have spoil’d several Men; but God be thank’d all was otherwise indifferent well with ’em, only they were intolerably cold, and every thing wet. At ten we made sail, Wind at W N W. and moderate. Lat. 60.58. (Rogers, 61-62)

George Shelvocke, captain of the privateer Speedwell, recorded what happened during a storm six days after they sailed from Plymouth in February 1719.

[O]n the 19th . . . between nine and ten at night, we encountered such a violent storm that . . . we had to take in all sail and run under bare poles. At midnight, we were struck by a sea that stove in a deadlight on our quarter, and another on our stern. Through these we shipped a vast quantity of water, and were in great apprehension of foundering before we could get them fastened up again. (Shelvocke, 31)

Deadlights were wooden shutters with which the crew covered windows to protect the glass from breaking and to keep water from pouring in during periods of high, angry seas. This storm so terrified his crew that seventy of them wanted to return home rather than continue on their journey to the South Sea. They didn’t cease their urgings until he armed his officers and punished two of the malcontents.

While Shelvocke and his men survived this storm relatively intact, they weren’t as lucky on 25 May 1720.

[A] hard gale came upon us from seaward, with a great tumbling swell . . . our cable parted. This was a dismal accident, as we had no means whatever by which to avoid the prospect of immediate destruction. But Providence interposed in our behalf, for had we struck only a cable’s length to the east or west of where we did, we must all have inevitably perished. As it was, when our ill-fated ship touched the rock, our three masts went all away by the board, while we had all to hold fast by some part of the ship or rigging, otherwise we, too, must have all been tossed into the sea. In short, words are wanting to express the wretched condition in which we now were, or our astonishment at our unexpected and unfortunate shipwreck. (Shelvocke, 98-99)

Another storm where the pirates’ luck ran out roiled off the coast of Cape Cod in 1717.

. . . a dense fog rolled in. Thunder rumbled. Lightning flashed. Waves began crashing over the deck . . . (Clifford, Real, 130)

Those waves rose thirty to forty feet high. Wind speeds reached as high as seventy miles an hour.

The nor’easter hit the Whydah at full force. The ship ran hard aground on a sandbar. The mainmast and other rigging snapped like twigs, and the Whydah rolled over. Some on board were swept over the side by the raging surf. Although the beach was just 500 feet away, the bitter ocean temperatures were cold enough to kill the strongest swimmer within minutes. Other crew members were crushed by the weight of falling rigging, cannon, and cargo as the ship, her treasure, and the remaining men on board plunged to the ocean floor. (Clifford, Real, 131)

Sam Bellamy was only one of the 130 pirates who lost their lives that night. One of the guns pinned the youngest member of the crew, John King, to the ocean floor.3

Five years earlier, a hurricane struck Jamaica. Lord Archibald Hamilton, Governor of Jamaica, wrote that nine ships at Kingston and thirty-eight at Port Royal were destroyed. Another hurricane struck on 28 August 1722. Captain Chaloner Ogle, who had ended Bartholomew Robert’s reign of terror six months earlier, was in Port Royal at the time. According to him, “as much wind in my opinion as could possibly blow out of the heavens” blew. “All the merchantmen in the harbour floundered or drove ashore excepting one sloop.” (Cordingly, Under, 80) Captain Johnson also described the storm.

. . . there was such a prodigious Swell of the Sea, that several hundred Tuns of Stones and Rocks were thrown over the Wall of the Town . . . the Town it self was overflowed, and above half destroy’d, there being the next Morning five Foot Water from one End to the other; the Cannon of Fort Charles were dismounted, and some washed into the Sea, and four hundred People lost their Lives: A more melancholly Sight was scarce ever seen when the Water ebb’d away, all the Streets being covered with Ruins of Houses, Wrecks of Vessels, and a great Number of dead Bodies . . . . (Defoe, 322-323)

Storm at sea

Edward Low and his men encountered the same hurricane as their brigantine sailed toward the Leewards Islands.

[T]he Sea ran Mountains high, and seemed to threaten them every Moment with Destruction; it was no Time now to look out for Plunder, but to save themselves . . . . All Hands were continually employed Night and Day . . . for the Waves went over her, so that they were forced to keep the pump constantly going, besides baling with Buckets; yet finding themselves not able to keep her free, and seeing the utmost Danger before their Eyes, they turn’d to the Tackle, and hoisted out their Provisions, and other heavy Goods, and threw them overboard, with six of their Guns, so that by lightening the Vessel, she might rise to the Top of the Sea with the Waves: They were also going to cut away their Mast; but considering how dangerous it would be, to be left in such a Condition, they resolved to delay it to the last  . . . .

. . .by throwing over-board the heavy Goods, the Vessel made considerable less Water, and they could keep it under with the Pump only, which gave them Hopes and new Life . . . . (Defoe, 321-322)

The hurricane that Charles Vane encountered in February 1719, didn’t spare his sloop. It smashed the boat into pieces on an uninhabited island in the Bay of Honduras. While most of his crew drowned, he survived because fishermen shared their food with him until another ship finally rescued him. Unfortunately for him, those aboard that ship were his enemies and he was taken to Jamaica and hanged.

Hanging pirate

Hidden reefThe ocean itself contained hidden dangers. Ten feet beneath the waters at the southern tip of Las Aves, an island in the Caribbean, is a three mile-long reef. At night it is hidden from view. After dark on 11 May 1678, the French fleet – a combination of Royal Navy and buccaneer ships – approached the island. The first vessel to slam into the reef was Le Terrible. The submerged rocks and coral crushed the bow as if it were as fragile as an eggshell. Men lost their footing. Rigging and spars toppled onto the deck. In just thirty seconds the flagship was destroyed. Dampier recorded what Comte d’Estrées did next.
[He] fired Guns to give warning to the rest of his Fleet: But they supposing their Admiral was engaged with Enemies, hoisted up their Topsails, and crowded all the Sails they could make, and ran full sail ashore after him, all within a Mile of each other. For his Light being in the Main-Top was an unhappy Beacon for them to follow; and there escaped one King’s Ship and one Privateer. The Ships continued whole all Day, and the Men had time enough, most of them, to get ashore, yet many perished in the Wreck; and many of those that got safe on the Island, for want of being accustomed to such Hardships, died like rotten Sheep. (Dampier, 43-44)
Ten warships, about 500 men, and 490 guns were lost. The ones who survived on shore were buccaneers and they did so for three weeks – living on the brandy, wine, beef, and pork retrieved from the wreckage – before a passing ship rescued them.

Laurence de Graff experienced a similar mishap while chasing a Spanish bark in 1686. He wrecked his ship near Cartagena. Once Henry Morgan was appointed lieutenant governor of Jamaica, he headed back to the island from London, where he had lived since his arrest in 1672. At Île à Vache, his ship struck a coral reef. “The ammunition and cannon that he’d brought with him . . . sank straight to the bottom of the ocean.” (Talty, 269)

John Bowen also suffered this type mishap in 1700 after taking several ships off India’s Malabar Coast.
Loaded with the Spoil of this and several Country Ships, they left the Coast, and steer’d for Madagascar; but in their Voyage thither, meeting with adverse Winds, and, being negligent in their Steerage, they ran upon St. Thomas’s Reed, at the Island of Mauritius, where the Ship was lost; but Bowen and the greatest Part of the Crew got safe ashore. (Defoe, 452)
Edward Teach, aka
Blackbeard the pirate

Edward Teach, on the other hand, purposely ran Queen Anne’s Revenge aground near Beaufort, North Carolina on 10 June 1718. When she hit the sand bar, the planks of her hull were ripped open. Anything on her decks that wasn’t tied down fell over. A witness to this event was the master of the sloop Adventure. In his affidavit, David Herriot related what occurred and why Teach did this.4
[T]he next Morning after they had all got safe into Topsail-Inlet, except Thatch, the said Thatch’s Ship Queen Anne’s Revenge run a-ground off the Bar of Topsail-Inlet, and the said Thatch sent his Quarter-Master to command this Deponent’s Sloop to come to his Assistance; but she run a-ground likewise about Gun-shot from the said Thatch before his said Sloop could come to their Assistance, and both the said Thatch’s Ship and this Deponent’s Sloop were wreck’d . . . .
Says, ’Twas generally believed the said Thatch run his Vessel a-ground on purpose to break up the Companies, and to secure what Moneys and Effects he had got for himself and such other of them as he had most Value for. (British, 375-376)
Not all dangers at sea came from Mother Nature. Some were instigated by men when they rose up against their captains and seized their ships. Mutiny was how Henry Every came to be a pirate captain in 1694. He served as first mate aboard the Charles when he and others assumed control while the drunken captain slept. They put him ashore in Africa, renamed the ship Fancy, and sailed away to plunder other vessels.

Of the forty-eight mutinies occurring between 1715 and 1737, sixteen crews turned to piracy. One of the bloodiest mutinies occurred after dark on 3 November 1724, aboard the George Galley. Seven men cut the throats of the surgeon, chief mate, and clerk while they slept. Captain Oliver Freneau, a mean and elderly man, was on deck when two mutineers tried to throw him overboard. He escaped only to face a third mutineer, who slashed his throat. Freneau continued to fight until he was shot. All four bodies were tossed into the ocean. The mutineers renamed the ship Revenge and elected John Gow as their captain.

Mutiny aboard ship,
                  artist unknown
Mutiny aboard ship

Mutineers seized the Gambia Castle off the African coast in 1721. Second mate George Lowther led the seamen and John Massey was the leader of the soldiers. They renamed the ship Delivery. While Lowther went on to become a pirate, Massey surrendered to authorities and was hanged.

Walter Kennedy sailed with Bartholomew Roberts until he and other pirates decided to go their own way. “In this company there was but one that pretended to any skill in navigation, (for Kennedy could neither write nor read, he being preferred to the command merely for his courage . . .) and he proved to be a pretender only. (Cordingly, Under, 87) This man was supposed to get them to Ireland, but instead they ended up off northwest Scotland – although they didn’t know where they were – in the middle of a storm.

shipwormWhile a mutiny was an intentional event, other man-made dangers were accidental. If the pirates failed to take care of their ships, the wood rotted and the ship leaked. This happened to William Kidd’s Adventure Galley because he never careened her hull, a necessary task. All wooden ships, but especially those sailing in tropical waters, collected seaweed, parasites, barnacles, and other gunk on their hulls. Such detritus not only slowed the ship but also allowed shipworms to bore through the wood. This was why pirates needed to careen their vessels every few months.5 Kidd abandoned his ship, which sank, at Madagascar in 1698, and returned to the Caribbean aboard his prize, the Quedagh Merchant.

Alexander Selkirk left the Cinque Ports in May 1704, for several reasons, one of which was the ship leaked badly. Although he spent the next four and a half years marooned on Juan Fernandez Island, his departure proved wise. The Cinque Ports sank off the South American coast. Only eighteen of the thirty-two survivors made it to land, where Spaniards captured and imprisoned them.

By the time Woodes Rogers and his ships reached Batavia in the summer of 1710, they also leaked. He recorded in the log:
. . . the Carpenters having view’d [the Marquiss] betwixt Wind and Water, finding her very bad, and that she had but a single Bottom, eat to a Honey-comb by the Worms, they judg’d her altogether unfit to go to Europe . . . . (Rogers, 207)
Chaloner Ogle, artist
                  unknown, circa 1746Of course, one of the most serious man-made dangers for pirates occurred when the prey decided to fight back or when they encountered pirate hunters. The damage inflicted to the ship could badly injure it, while any wounds the pirates sustained might be severe enough to maim or kill. Splinters flew. Musket balls penetrated. Round shot severed. Falling spars crushed. When Captain Chaloner Ogle (right) on HMS Swallow attacked the Royal Fortune in February 1722, Bartholomew Roberts succumbed after being shot in the throat. A round shot took off the leg of James Skyrm, who commanded one of the other pirate ships.

Royal Navy ships also pursued Joseph Bannister, a respected merchant captain who went on the account in 1684. Jamaican Governor Thomas Lynch wrote that Bannister “ran away with a ship, the Golden Fleece, of thirty or forty guns” and “picked up over a hundred men from sloops and” Port Royal. (Kurson, 48) Two years later, two navy frigates came upon him in Samaná Bay, where he was careening his ship. John Taylor witnessed the ensuing battle from the deck of one of those frigates.
Bannister . . . immediately fier’d at us . . . from their batteries, and with their guns shott very furiously, and wounded one of our men. Being come to anchor in 5 fathom watter . . . [we] brought our broadside to bear on them and fier’d with our upper and lower fire of ordnance and our small shot on the quarter deck with good success, soe tha we shattered the bowes of the Fleece all to pieces, and utterly distroyed his great ship Fleece and soon beat them from their cannon, which they plied violently against us, with little damage. (Kurson, 235-236)
Night interrupted the fighting, which resumed the next morning on 1 July 1686.
Soe we kept all day long fiering at the Fleece, and theirby reducet hir to such condition that ’twas impossible for hir evermore to swim. For oftentimes we plac’t 20 shots of our lower fier in hir bowes and quarter, soe that we saw both planck and timbers fly from hir. (Kurson, 236)
Fighting continued for two more days. On “Sunday the third . . . we heard a great noise from Banister’s island, and saw a great smoak, which continued about half an houre. I suppose they blow’d up somewhat and fired their great ship.” (Kurson, 236)

Bannister and his men escaped aboard a French privateer, which had sailed in consort with them.

In spite of the all these perils, men and women are still drawn to sail the vast oceans of our world. Perhaps the lure is best expressed in John Masefield’s poem, “Sea Fever.”

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.


1. Corpus Sant is also known as St. Elmo’s Fire. Dampier described this phenomenon as “a certain small glittering Light; when it appears  . . . on the very Top of the Main-mast or at a Yard-arm, it is like a Star; but when it appears on the Deck, it resembles a great Glow-worm.” (Dampier, 281)

2. James L. Nelson provided this information in an e-mail.

3. Centuries later, Barry Clifford discovered Whydah's remains. Among the artifacts recovered was a fragment of leg bone, concealed in the same silk stocking nine-year-old John King had worn the day Bellamy captured the vessel on which John sailed. Also found was his leather shoe still fastened with its buckle.

4. Colonel William Rhett captured Stede Bonnet and his men, including David Herriot, on 27 September 1718. He agreed to testify for the Crown, but four days before the first trial was set to begin, he and Bonnet escaped. Rhett pursued on 5 November; Herriot was killed, and Bonnet was taken into custody, tried, and hanged.

5. Careening involves beaching the ship and pulling it over onto one side to enable sailors to bream, caulk, and make repairs. Once done, the ship is pulled onto its other side and the process repeated. Although such work can also be done at a dockyard, pirates didn’t usually have access to one.

For additional information, I recommend the following resources:
Amsterdam Wreck, Shipwreck Museum.
Angry Sea -- The Perfect Storm in Reality.

Barrow, John. The Eventful History of the Mutiny and Piratical Seizure of HMS Bounty: Its Cause and Consequences. John Murray, 1831.
Beal, Clifford. Quelch’s Gold: Piracy, Greed, and Betrayal in Colonial New England. Praeger, 2007.

British Piracy in the Golden Age: History and Interpretation, 1660-1730 edited by Joel H. Baer (v. 2). Pickering & Chato, 2007.

Cabell, Craig, Graham A. Thomas, and Allan Richards. The Hunt for Blackbeard: The World’s Most Notorious Pirate. Pen & Sword, 2012.
Cape Horn & the Sea of Fear. February 2003.
Clifford, Barry. The Lost Fleet: The Discovery of a Sunken Armada from the Golden Age of Piracy. William Morrow, 2002.

Clifford, Barry. The Pirate Prince: Discovering the Priceless Treasures of the Sunken Ship Whydah. Simon & Schuster, 1993.
Clifford, Barry, and Kenneth J. Kinkor. Real Pirates: The Untold Story of the Whydah from Slave Ship to Pirate Ship. National Geographic, 2007.
Cordingly, David. The Pirate Hunter of the Caribbean: The Adventurous Life of Captain Woodes Rogers. Random House, 2011.
Cordingly, David. Under the Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life Among the Pirates. Random House, 1995.

Daley, Jason. "Found: 500-year-old Portuguese Shipwreck from Famed Explorer's Fleet," Smithsonian.com 16 March 2016.
Dampier, William. Memoirs of a Buccaneer: Dampier’s New Voyage Round the World, 1697. Dover, 1967.

Defoe, Daniel. A General History of the Pyrates edited by Manuel Schonhorn. Dover, 1999.
Dow, George Francis, and John Henry Edmonds. The Pirates of the New England Coast 1630-1730. Dover, 1996.
Duffus, Kevin P. The Last Days of Black Beard the Pirate. Looking Glass Productions, 2008.

Exquemelin, Alexander O. The Buccaneers of America translated by Alexis Brown. Dover, 1969.

Gilly, William O. S. Narratives of Shipwrecks of the Royal Navy: Between 1793 and 1849. John W. Parker, MDCCCL.

Historic Shipwrecks in the Gulf of Mexico. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.
Houston, Fraser and Jourdan. “Ships Afire at Sea,” Sea History 150 (Spring 2015), 28-32.

King, Gilbert. "The True-Life Horror that Inspired Moby Dick," Smithsonian.com 1 March 2013.
Kurson, Robert. Pirate Hunters: Treasure, Obsession, and the Search for a Legendary Pirate Ship. Random House, 2015.

Little, Benerson. The Buccaneer’s Realm: Pirate Life on the Spanish Main, 1674-1688. Potomac Books, 2007.
Little, Benerson. The Sea Rover’s Practice: Pirate Tactics and Techniques, 1630-1730. Potomac Books, 2005.
Lost to the Perils of the Sea. National Park Service.

Marley, David F. Pirates of the Americas (v. 1: 1650-1685). ABC-CLIO, 2010.

Pirates, Jack Tar, & Memory: New Directions in American Maritime History edited by Paul A. Gilje and William Pencak. Mystic Seaport, 2007.
Poolman, Kenneth.The Speedwell Voyage: A True Story of Survival at Sea in the Bestselling Tradition of The Endurance. Bekley, 2000.
Preston, Diane and Michael. A Pirate of Exquisite Mind: Explorer, Naturalist, and Buccaneer – the Life of William Dampier. Walker & Co., 2004.

Rediker, Marcus. Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: Merchant Seamen, Pirates, and the Anglo-American Maritime World, 1700-1750. Cambridge, 1999.
Rogers, Woodes. A Cruising Voyage Round the World. The Narrative Press, 2004.

Sanders, Richard. If a Pirate I Must Be . . .: The True Story of “Black Bart,” King of the Caribbean Pirates. Skyhorse, 2007.
Selinger, Gail. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Pirates. Alpha, 2006.
Shelvocke, George. A Privateer’s Voyage Round the World. Seaforth, 2010.
Shipwrecks. Immigrant Ships Transcribers Guild.
Smith, Roff. "Diamond Shipwreck," National Geographic October 2009.

Story: Shipwrecks. The Encyclopedia of New Zealand.

Vallar, Cindy. "A Fateful Voyage: The Story of the 1715 Treasure Fleet, Pirates, and a Tercentenary," Pirates & Privateers 23 November 2015.
Vallar, Cindy. "Shipwreck Treasure Galleons," Pirates& Privateers November 2003.

X Marks the Spot: The Archaeology of Piracy edited by Russell K. Skowronek and Charles R. Ewen. University Press of Florida, 2006.

Zacks, Richard. The Pirate Hunter: The True Story of Captain Kidd. Hyperion, 2002.

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